China’s manufacturing hub Guangzhou partially locked down as Covid outbreak widens

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The southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou has locked down more than 5 million residents as authorities scrambled to contain the expanding Covid-19 outbreak and refrain from initiating the kind of city-wide lockdown that devastated Shanghai earlier this year.

Guangzhou reported 3,007 local infections on Wednesday, accounting for more than a third of the country’s new cases. The number of infections nationwide hit a six-month high.

The city of 19 million has become the epicenter of China’s latest coronavirus outbreak, recording more than 1,000 new cases for five days in a row — a relatively high number by China’s zero-coronavirus standards.

As the world moves away from the pandemic, China is still insisting on using rapid lockdowns, mass testing, extensive contact tracing and quarantine measures to wipe out infections as soon as they emerge. The zero-tolerance approach faces growing challenges from highly transmissible Omicron variants, whose heavy economic and social costs have drawn growing public opposition.

The ongoing outbreak is the worst since the pandemic began hitting Guangzhou. The city is the capital of Guangdong Province, China’s major economic powerhouse and global manufacturing center.

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Most of the cases in Guangzhou are concentrated in Haizhu District, a major residential area with a population of 1.8 million on the southern bank of the Pearl River. Haizhu was locked down on Saturday, residents were told not to leave their homes unless necessary, and all public transport – from buses to subways – was suspended. The lockdown was initially supposed to last for three days, but was later extended until Friday.

Two other regions — with a combined population of 3.8 million — were placed under lockdown on Wednesday as the outbreak expanded.

In Liwan, an old district in the city’s west, residents woke up with orders to stay home unless absolutely necessary. Colleges and universities in the area were told to close campuses. Dining in restaurants was banned and businesses were ordered to close, except for businesses that provided essential supplies.

On Wednesday afternoon, the third district, remote Panyu, announced a lockdown that will last until Sunday. The area also banned private cars and bicycles from the streets.

From Thursday, all primary and secondary schools in the city’s eight urban districts will implement online classes, and kindergartens will be closed. Remedial classes, training facilities and day care centers will also be suspended, city education officials said in a news conference Wednesday.

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Large-scale testing was carried out in 9 districts of the city, and more than 40 subway stations were closed.Residents are considered close contacts of an infected person – in China, it could be a neighbor, someone living in the same building, or Even residential areas – have been collectively moved to centralized isolation facilities.

The outbreak has also led to mass cancellations at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, one of the busiest in the country. As of Thursday morning, 85 percent of nearly 1,000 flights in and out of Guangzhou had been cancelled, according to flight-tracking company Variflight.

“At present, there is still a risk of community transmission in non-risk areas, and the epidemic remains severe and complex,” Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Guangzhou Municipal Health Commission, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The lockdowns so far appear to be more targeted and less draconian than those in many other cities. While residents living in neighborhoods designated as high-risk cannot leave their homes, those in so-called low-risk areas within the lockdown can go out to buy groceries and other everyday items.

But many fear a full city-wide lockdown could be imminent if the outbreak continues to spread. On China’s super-app WeChat, residents shared a chart of Guangzhou and Shanghai’s surge in case numbers in late March, days before a two-month lockdown in the eastern financial center.

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Shanghai officials initially denied the need for a city-wide lockdown, But then one was implemented after the city reported 3,500 daily infections.

Many residents in Guangzhou, anticipating worse, stocked up on food and other supplies. “I’ve been buying (groceries and snacks) online like crazy. I might be eating leftovers for a month,” said a resident in Haizhu district, which is listed as low-risk by authorities.

Others, outraged by the restrictions and testing ordinances, have taken to social media to vent their frustrations. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, a surge in posts criticizing the zero-epidemic measures using local Cantonese slang and swear words appears to have largely avoided the eyes of online censors who don’t understand it.

“Every day I search for swear words in Cantonese for school in real time,” said one Weibo user.

Meanwhile, local authorities across the country are under pressure to tighten Covid control measures despite growing public frustration.

Videos of Covid workers beating residents from head to toe in protective suits went viral this week. Seven Covid-19 workers were detained after clashes with residents, police in Linyi city, Shandong province, said in a statement Tuesday after the outcry.

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